SUMMARY: Our vision, called Appropedia, is built upon the remarkable success of wiki-based infrastructures. Whereas existing wikis (Wikipedia is the most widely known) have focused on the power of collaborative web-based information centralization and developing collaboration policies to make that information solid, referenced and reliable for capturing what is well-established, Appropedia is expanding this concept to include collaborative research, development and problem-solving by incorporating real-world experiences of both amateurs and experts backed by policies that enable critiques, commentary and scoring of solutions.
PROBLEM SPACE: Efforts in sustainability and development technology, like many other technical fields, are often developed in relatively closed environments. Historically, documenting and sharing solutions involved costly and time-consuming publication with little benefit to the author. Difficulties in tracking down existing solutions to appropriate technology problems has led to engineers and fieldworkers wasting time, energy, and resources solving the same problems over and over again. A single shared infrastructure is needed so that the existing disjoint community of appropriate technologists can more easily and openly collaborate on their projects.
For example, collaborative service learning projects (which combines community service, internship and instruction) such as appropriate technology courses and labs at universities, are bountiful sources of new ideas in the field. Such programs create effective change agents through leadership opportunities, civic engagement, practical design experience and immersion in diverse contexts of design projects that few other teaching methods allow. Service learning is particularly focused on developing Appropriate Solutions. But service learning wisdom and related valuable content is rarely published in an accessible form, and is created and lost every academic year. A mechanism is needed to capture the knowledge developed in service learning programs.
Indeed, all appropriate technologists should be able to collaborate with others they may already know, who can extend a solution’s reach to meet different conditions such as climate, culture, materials, weather, geology, crops and animal species. We envision a world where people around the world work together to solve problems and share solutions, internationally and multilingually. The complexity of sharing has been a barrier; an established infrastructure will enable a cultural shift toward more sharing and collaboration, leading to widespread adoption of the most successful sustainable behaviors, lifestyles and tools.
SOLUTION: Our vision, called Appropedia, is built upon the remarkable success of wiki-based infrastructures. Whereas existing wikis (Wikipedia is the most widely known) have focused on the power of collaborative web-based information centralization and developing collaboration policies to make that information solid, referenced and reliable for capturing what is well-established, Appropedia is expanding this concept to include collaborative research, development and problem-solving by incorporating real-world experiences of both amateurs and experts backed by policies that enable critiques, commentary and scoring of solutions.
The “trimtab” concept is engendered in Appropedia by the leverage that can be achieved by sharing of information at zero cost to the authors or readers, and by enabling the spontaneous development of problem solving teams of willing collaborators. This is key! The Wikipedias of the world, which focus more on well established facts, will tend to encourage a culture of “let’s just ask the Internet.” By contrast, Appropedia will have a counter tendency of encouraging “I wonder if I can improve on this solution.” This is the state that Appropedia seeks to achieve.
The implementation of Appropedia is already underway, thanks to the efforts of a large team of dedicated volunteers working on an ad-hoc, part-time basis. Appropedia is an online, wiki-based clearinghouse for ideas, projects, questions, and designs in the domain of sustainability and development work. All content on Appropedia is released under an open license, enabling people to extend, share, translate, and use it freely and at no charge. Independent experts like George Dappilly in India are able use Appropedia as a homepage for their projects at no charge.. George has transferred his documentation on mosquito abatement methods to Appropedia and he expands and updates that information regularly. Users post questions and are able to reach George through his user pages and contact info.
Appropedia benefits service learning by acting as a repository for appropriate technologies, systems, and policies, and as a clearing house for collaborations. Appropedia is already helping to preserve this knowledge; old projects and research are being leveraged for more ambitious projects and research each year. Educators such as Joshua Pearce (see below) and Lonny Grafman (see below) are able to use Appropedia as the platform on which students construct assignments, and in the process create valuable resources on sustainability. Appropedia is also used for project development and write-up, allowing students to learn from and build upon previous work.
The Appropedia Foundation is a nonprofit California Corporation with California 23701(d) and, very recently, Federal 501(c)(3) tax exempt status. The work of Appropedia is currently carried out by volunteers, with costs such as hosting and filing fees being paid directly by donors. The ability of the effort to deliver, thus far, well over 1.5 million pages of content for a net cost of around $3000 is evidence of the tremendous leverage power of the project. Additional funding will enable us to expand our work in several important areas. Even as new gains are met by new funds, sustaining operation requires minimal funding.
While it would be possible to incorporate a fee structure into Appropedia, this would effectively discourage either the contributors or the consumers of the solutions, directly counter to our goals. We prefer to sustain our low-cost operation through donations and grants. We will consider some forms of advertising and corporate sponsorships but will need to avoid conflicts of interest. We note that Wikipedia, a much larger site, has sustained itself through support without advertising.